"Of all the arts, Architecture is the one which is least understood. It provides the background to all the other arts and responds to the nuances of the Social Structure which inhabit it. It is not about object but must recognize the work of others and celebrate the space between the public and private realms."Sir Ian Athfield

Born in Christchurch in 1940, Sir Ian received an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2013. His early strengths in art and mathematics shaped the notion of a future career path when it was suggested by a local teacher that he might become an architect.  He was seven years old. As he grew older he became interested in the strong local ‘Brutalist' architecture of Miles Warren, Maurice Mahoney, Peter Beaven and others, and while studying for his Diploma of Architecture at Auckland University, he was further influenced by the divergent work and ideas of European architects Antoni Gaudi, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Aldo van Eyck.

Following summer work at the Christchurch office of Warren & Mahoney, Sir Ian's professional career began in the Auckland firm Stephenson and Turner Ltd in 1962, and in 1963 he and his new wife Clare moved to Wellington.  After five years at Structon Group, and a controversial dismissal, he set up practice from his home in Khandallah, and in July 1968 the firm of Athfield Architects was born.

From the outset Sir Ian Athfield and Athfield Architects were designing residential, commercial, cultural and civic buildings which often defied both regulations and accepted norms.  Boundaries were continually pushed, and humour injected, and this is nowhere more evident than in his own home in Amritsar Street, acknowledged by Ath as ‘probably his most important building', and which now accommodates a whole community of family, architectural staff, builders, children, animals and beehives.

As founding principal, Sir Ian Athfield headed the company for forty five years, and during that period he was responsible for the majority of design direction in office.  As well as his contribution to the design of a broad range of projects throughout New Zealand, in 1976 Ath won an international  Design Competition for Housing in Manila, the Philippines.  He was involved in a teaching fellowship with Victoria University of Wellington, was a keynote speaker at various international conferences and has judged numerous architectural / urban design competitions.  He was in great demand as a guest speaker in New Zealand among educational, civic, commercial and charitable organisations.

Under his directorship, Athfield Architects won well over 100 design awards and has also been the subject of a number of books, magazine articles and documentaries along with a recent exhibition at Wellington's City Gallery.  Ath also conducted a number of international Master Classes at his Awaroa property.

In 2004 Sir Ian was the recipient of the New Zealand Institute of Architects' highest honour, the Gold Medal, and from 2006 - 2008 he was president of the NZIA.  In 2006 he became the first New Zealand architect to be registered as an APEC Architect.  Ath was recently  a member of the Auckland City Property Enterprise Board, advisor to Auckland's Aotea Square development, and a member of the Assessment Panel for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery master plan.  He had recently been serving on the Board of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and was made NZIA Architectural Ambassador to Christchurch soon after the September 2010 earthquake to provide advice and coordination during the rebuild and restoration process.  In 2012 Ath was the recipient of the DINZ John Britten Black Pin Award for services to New Zealand Design.

Sir Ian Athfield was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2014 New Year's Honours List.



A new book and exhibition about his architecture practice give an insight into the projects and passions of a counter-culture creative. Nicole Stock asks what's next for Ath?
An essay by Julia Gatley, The University of Auckland
A Cross Section article which came out at the time of Ath’s NZ Institute of Architects Gold Medal award.
The Architecture of Ian Athfield an Essay by Clarence Aasen for World Architecture Review magazine #4/1993
The Battle of the Heights by Chris Brooke-White. Published in the NZIA Journal


Sir Ian Athfield passed away on 16 January, 2015. This video was made for Ath's public commemoration, which took place in Wellington's Civic Square and City Gallery on 1 February.
2009 Award Winner of the Absolutely Creatively Ambassador Wellington Award
'Architect Athfield' examines the frustrations and achievements of one of New Zealand's most lively and innovative architects.


The bold and poetic gestures of his [Ath's] architecture emerge from the dual condition of a ruggedly pristine natural environment and the too-often disastrous condition of the contemporary city...
Ath is renowned for his big picture thinking in both urban and rural environments. View this photographic collection of some of his work.
born (July),Christchurch, New Zealand
Stephenson & Turner (NZ) Ltd, Auckland
Diploma of Architecture, Auckland University
Structon Group, Wellington
Registered Architect (NZ)
Athfield Architects formed (July)
Design Competition for Housing in Manila
Book - Joyful Architecture by Gerald Melling
Four week lecture tour of USA
Wellington Civic Centre and Public Library completed
NZ Commemoration Medal
Keynote Speaker, RIBA Summer Events Programme, London
World Architecture Review Special AAL issue
Companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit
Alumni Fellow, University of Auckland
Finalist, Carlsberg Architectural Prize, Denmark
Honorary Doc. Literature, Victoria University of Wellington
NZIA Gold Medal
NZ's first APEC Architect
President, NZIA
Book - Athfield Architects by Julia Gatley; Exhibition - City Gallery Wellington People and Place; Designers Institute "John Britten Black Pin" Award for Services to NZ Design
Book - Portrait of a House by Simon Devitt; Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award
Named Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit on the New Year's Honours List